All the terror of ‘Argo’ and much more

I recently had the opportunity to see the Academy award-winning film “ARGO” and was impressed to see the producers of the film had correctly depicted the horrifying sense of terror and imminent death individuals living in post-revolutionary Iran experienced at the hands of the Iranian regime’s thugs. The scenes in the film showing “enemies” of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime hanging dead from construction cranes in the middle of the streets of Tehran or an individual being randomly shot by the regime’s revolutionary guards were indeed commonplace in the late 1970s and early 1980s in Iran.

Yet the heart-pounding terror shown in “ARGO” was just a small glimpse into the longstanding pain and suffering created by Iran’s radical Islamic regime towards average Iranians—especially Jews and other religious minorities living in Iran during the last 30 plus years. While “ARGO” is an entertaining film based on true facts that occurred in Iran at the start of the revolution, many of us Iranian Jews living in the U.S. and elsewhere relive this nightmare on a daily basis when we recall what suffering our community has endured at the hands of the current Islamic regime’s leadership.

Habib Elghanian (photo courtesy of Sion Elghanian)
Habib Elghanian (photo courtesy of Sion Elghanian)

The new Islamic laws of Iran established in 1979 basically treated Jews and other religious minorities as second class citizens and with this inferior status, the regime’s leaders and thugs were permitted randomly to take lives, confiscate properties and create shear chaos for all non-Muslims. In May 1979, Habib Elghanian, the leader of the Jewish community in Iran was tried in a one-hour sham trial and then promptly executed by the Iranian regime for being a supposed “American and Zionist spy”.

Elghanian’s execution and the random killings of other innocent Jews in Iran, as well as the dire situation the Iranian regime had created for Jews resulted in more than 80,000 Jews fleeing Iran since 1979 for Europe, the U.S. and Israel.  While somewhere between 10,000 to 20,000 Jews still live in Iran, many are risking their lives on a daily basis by remaining there and some have even lost their lives. For example, just this past November, Toobah Nehdaran, an impoverished, 57-year-old married Jewish woman was strangled, then repeatedly stabbed to death and had her body mutilated in a ritual manner by Muslim thugs who had broken into her home located in the Iranian city of Isfahan. Iranian authorities have still not investigated the case and no suspects have yet been arrested. Likewise, this past December, a 24-year-old Iranian Jewish young man was randomly shot to death in his home by unknown assailants. Various rumors have circulated regarding the circumstances surrounding his death, but again the regime’s leadership has not investigated the case.

Yet these killings of Jews are not uncommon for the current Iranian regime. According to a 2004 report prepared by Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian Jewish activist and head of the Los Angeles-based “Committee for Minority Rights in Iran,” since 1979, at least 14 Jews were murdered or assassinated by the regime’s agents. Likewise, 11 Jews have disappeared after being arrested, at least two Jews died while in custody and another 11 Jews have been officially executed by the regime. In 1999, Feizollah Mekhoubad, a 78-year-old cantor of the popular Youssefabad synagogue in Tehran was the last Jew to be officially executed by the regime, stated the report.

In 2000, the Iranian Jewish community in the U.S. was at the forefront of an international human rights campaign to save the lives of 13 Jews in the Iranian city of Shiraz that were facing imminent execution after being arrested on trumped up charges of spying for Israel and the U.S. Ultimately, the Shiraz Jews were not executed but sentenced to prison terms and have since been released. The Shiraz Jews were lucky. Between 1994 and 1997, 12 Iranian Jews were arrested by the Iranian secret police while attempting to flee from southwestern Iran into Pakistan. They have not been heard from since and their families now living in the U.S. and elsewhere have been enduring endless pain not knowing the status of their loved ones. In September 2007, seven Iranian Jewish families in Los Angeles and Israel filed a lawsuit in New York Federal Court against former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami holding him responsible for the arrests and disappearance of their loved ones.

Even today, while a number of Jews remain in Iran because of their financial situations or because of advanced age, the community by in large lives in fear of one day being the target of retaliation by mobs of radical Islamic thugs working for the Iranian regime. In January 2011, the Iranian government-sponsored Fars News Agency (FNA) reported that “the Iranian student Basiji militia, of the Abu-Ali Sina/Avicenna University in the western Iranian province of Hamadan were rioting outside the entrance of the Esther and Mordechai tomb and threatening to destroy it if Israel destroyed the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.”

The news reports said Basiji militia, that are government funded, had removed the mausoleum’s entrance sign, covered the Star of David at the mausoleum’s entrance with a welded metal cover and demanded the site be placed under the supervision of the local Islamic religious authority.  According to one FNA news report, the Basiji protesters also demanded that the shrine lose its status as a nationally protected religious site because “the shrine is an arm of Israeli imperialism that impugns Iranian sovereignty; it honors Esther and Mordechai, who were the murderers of Iranians, and their names must be obliterated to teach the younger generation to beware of the crimes of the Jews.”

As we can see, the Iranian regime has not only targeted Jews, but has also been eager to remove any ancient Jewish historical sites in Iran. Of course the hatred of Jews by the Iranian regime does not end with the regime terrorizing Jews living in Iran, the Iranian regime’s leaders, include the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad frequently deny the Holocaust and sponsor Holocaust denial conferences in Iran on a yearly basis. The Iranian state-run news programs in English also frequently feature well known western neo-Nazis and anti-Semites such as David Duke to spew their hateful rhetoric about Jews and supposed Jewish conspiracies to “take over the world”.

Interestingly enough, the Iranian regime denies all of their state-sponsored attacks against Jews and constantly goes to great lengths with an on-going international propaganda campaign to show that the Iranian regime “loves the Jews” and gives the “Jews equal freedom and rights” in Iran.  Every so often the Iranian regime’s puppet masters will also trump out Dr. Siamak Morsadegh, the only Jewish member of Iranian parliament, to make “anti-Israel” statements or to praise the leadership of the Iranian regime for being “benevolent to the Jews” in front of international news media cameras. If anyone actually believes the garbage coming out of the mouth from any Jewish leader or individual Jew in Iran about the supposed “freedoms and good lives Jews have in Iran” in front of news cameras, then they are living in a fairy tale land of make-believe! The only reason these Jews in Iran are praising the regime before the western press interviewing them is because they are facing duress, potential imprisonment and even execution by the regime’s thugs if they say anything negative about the Iranian leadership. Therefore the comments from Jews in Iran about their living conditions have no credibility in my eyes or to those who know about the Iranian regime’s propaganda puppet masters.

In the end, while ARGO has accurately shown the true evil of the current Iranian regime towards those who do not follow their radical fundamentalist Islamic beliefs, the film is just a mere footnote in the long history of nightmares that the regime and its leadership have brought upon average Iranians living in that country. During the last three decades religious minorities including Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians and Bahais have encountered more killings, more tortures, more imprisonments and essentially a hell on earth at the hands of the Iranian regime that even the most elaborate Hollywood film could not depict. The nightmares the Iranian regime’s leaders have unleashed upon the Jews of Iran since 1979 will never be forgotten and many of us Iranian Jews living in the west will continue to speak out and remind the world of the truly evil nature of this regime in Iran.

About the Author
Karmel Melamed is an award-winning internationally published Iranian American journalist based in Southern California; He is a member of the Speakers Bureau of JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa